altMark Schweizer's Liturgical Mysteries (St. James Music Press)

The Alto Wore Tweed (2002), The Baritone Wore Chiffon (2004), The Tenor Wore Tapshoes (2005), The Soprano Wore Falsettos (2006), The Bass Wore Scales (2006), The Mezzo Wore Mink (2008), The Diva Wore Diamonds (2010), The Organist Wore Pumps (2010), The Countertenor Wore Garlic (2011), The Christmas Cantata (2011), The Treble Wore Trouble (2012), The Cantor Wore Crinolines (2013), The Maestro Wore Mohair (2015), The Choir Director Wore Out (2018)

Back in 2000, I read and reviewed the first book in this series, The Alto Wore Tweed. I don't know what took me so long to get to the rest of it, but once I restarted, I couldn't stop. Four years ago, I said, "This book is just for fun. If there is something of redeeming social value about it, I didn't notice, but I laughed longer and harder than I have over a book in a long time." Our choir director introduced me to the series—we get some of our anthems from St. James Press, and are currently singing one by Mark Schweizer himself. Yes, he knows whereof he speaks when he writes about being a church musician!

Hayden Konig is the chief of police in St. Germaine, a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. He's also the organist and choir director of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, across the street from the police station, and a would-be writer of "hard-boiled" detective fiction. St. Germaine could be Jan Karon's Mitford....except for all the murders.

The stories could stand by themselves as delightful "cozy" mysteries, but what really makes them so amusing to me is Schweizer's highly accurate view of life in the Episcopal church, from a musician's point of view. Allowing for literary license, and concomitant exaggeration and hyperbole, there is so much about the Episcopal Church (and choirs, and other denominations, and small town life) that he just nails. There's plenty of wordplay of the kind I dearly love, and for those in the know, lots of what are known in the computing world as "Easter eggs"—here in Central Florida we call them "Hidden Mickeys." For example, here's one of my favorites:

[Speaking of a tent-revival preacher] The good reverend had an assistant who would be choosing the Gospel passages on which Hogmanay McTavish would preach each and every evening. This assistant was what many politically correct folks might call "Poultry-American." Other folks might call her "dinner." Her name was Binny Hen. Binny Hen the Scripture Chicken.

I'm certain many of Schweizer's gems have gone over my head, but having lived within five miles of Benny Hinn's ministry in Central Florida, I couldn't miss that one.

I said that there was nothing of redeeming social importance in these tales, but the truth is that they contain a good deal of accurate information about both Episcopal Church services and classical choral music. Granted, even in our heyday our thurifer was unable to draw Biblical scenes in smoke; I've never had a choir director who was independently wealthy (that's some wishful thinking on the part of the author, I suspect); and I doubt Tim keeps a pistol in the organ bench (though I've never checked). Thankfully, the rates of crime and moral turpitude among the choir, congregation, and clergy are greatly exaggerated, but for general misbehavior—such as persistent chatting during rehearsal, and whining about the music—it is spot on.

If the "crimes and moral turpitude" are all too human, the language is quite mild for modern writing, the worst I could find being the following passage, in which cleverness covereth a multitude of sins.

Her name was Barbara—Barbara Seville—and she was a mezzo. Some said she slid to the top of the opera world on her husband’s money: that before she married Aristotle bin Laden, she’d been demoted to seamstress and spent most of her time in the wings tucking up the frills instead of on the stage doing the opposite.

Here are some brief passages I particularly enjoyed. Expect further excerpts in subsequent posts. Some are from the mystery itself, and some from the detective fiction Konig writes in his spare time and copies onto the backs of the Psalm copies for the choir to read during the sermon.

"I thought you had given up beer for Lent," Meg said.

"I started to, but then I decided to give up meddling in church politics. In order to do that, I'm going to need the beer."

The following is unfortunately an accurate discription of our own church's sound system.

Our sound system in the church was minimal—just a little amplification for the readers and the priest. Trying to send music through it was akin to listening to a symphony over a CB radio.

I began to suspect that the alto section was trying to forestall the rehearsal of the Harris piece. The alto line had been giving them fits for the last two rehearsals. The soprano section, on the other hand, was sitting quietly and smiling demurely, having already mastered most of the notes in the upcoming anthem. Basses and tenors were, by all indications, asleep.

“You know there’s a handgun in the organ bench?”

“Yeah. That’s mine. It’s a Glock 9mm. Tends to keep the tenors in tune.”

“A new dive just opened up across from St. Gertrude’s. It sounds like our kind of place. Good looking beer-fräuleins in tight shirts, lots of German brews, and Baroque organ music from a three-manual Flentrop with a sixteen-foot heckelphone you can really hang your hat on.”

“Sounds sweet,” I agreed, suddenly interested. “What’s this place called?”

“Buxtehooters.”

"Nancy's off today, Dave's in at noon," I said, and sipped my coffee. "I'm hoping there's no crime wave till tomorrow."

"You're probably okay," said Cynthia. "We've had two murders in two weeks and I heard that yesterday someone tried to bludgeon the bishop to death with his own stick. That should do us for a while."

I sighed. "We've had two unrelated deaths and the bishop just happened to be standing in the way when Humphrey Brownlow decided to attack the video drone with the crozier during a naked baptism."

"Video drone?" said Pete. "Naked baptism? I've got to start going back to church."

"You know," said Cynthia, giggling, "I've heard of other churches that get together to sing hymns of faith, hear a sermon, pray for each other, and then go out to lunch afterward."

"Where's the fun in that?" I said.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 9, 2024 at 6:00 am | Edit
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